By biding their time, the east Londoners have found their moment
Two years ago [a]S.C.U.M[/a] were black of heart, soul and high-waisted slacks. Named after the bile-scorched screed of feminist writer Valerie Solanas (sample: “[i]the male is an incomplete female, a walking abortion[/i]” – Caitlin Moran it isn’t), their sonic heart of darkness encased in a flinty ribcage of distortion was just the sort of thing for the crucifix-flaunting class of 2008.
But the London five-piece, mourning the (near) death of ROMANCE or the outcome of An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump, waited for east London’s dark summer to pass. ‘[b]Again Into Eyes[/b]’ is their revised manifesto. Cracking the windows on the airless, claustrophobic sound of old, single ‘[b]Amber Hands[/b]’ sees distorted guitars spiral, Loop-like, across a prow of droning synths. This defter touch is further developed on opener ‘[b]Faith Unfolds[/b]’, which contains billows of synths and ringing guitars that sound almost celebratory over Melissa Rigby’s militant triple fills.
But we already knew [a]S.C.U.M[/a] could sculpt atmosphere. ‘[b]Again Into Eyes[/b]’ finally gives credence to the idea that they can also write real-life songs that stand up without gratuitous strobes and cheekbones. ‘[b]Paris[/b]’ is essentially a piano number from a cabaret at the end of the earth, Thomas Cohen’s baritone – now stripped of all but the most cursory of reverb – sounds earnestly fey as he whispers sweet abstractions (“[i]To lie awake and hear/I was born in the wrong way[/i]”) while washes of sonic scree sweep like chill wind across heathland. You can practically hear the rain lash the piano.
It’s hardly subtle, but it’s a step up from the pantomime goth of ‘[b]Visions Arise[/b]’. The same androgynous romanticism is employed in ‘[b]Whitechapel[/b]’ (listen below), its knee-height funk frame anchoring chiming synths that blossom into a moment of lucid melancholia when the vocals cease. Not that they’ve have dropped the schlock completely: ‘[b]Summon The Sound[/b]’ races like a heart in a chest of a paranoiac while guitars scythe and Huw Webb’s malignant bassline nips at you like a guilty memory.
But growing up brings fresh challenges. They’re dogged by comparisons to [a]The Horrors[/a] – who were also perceived as doctoring the style to substance ratio with some alright results – but who really cares if ‘[b]Sentinel Bloom[/b]’ has a touch of ‘[b]Mirror’s Image[/b]’ within its synth line? As the careening wig-out proves, no one band has the monopoly on machine-grafted psychedelia. [a]S.C.U.M[/a] may still have a way to go before they truly master their references and get a handle on their lofty metaphors, but their debut is a hymn to maturation. Solanas wrote that all men should ride the waves until their demise. [a]S.C.U.M[/a] have ridden it out alright, but the outcome is the exact opposite.